The federal judge presiding over the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian charged with taking part in the bombing of two American embassies in Africa, delayed the case by two days until Oct. 6.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York today granted a prosecution request to postpone the trial, for which jury selection started Sept. 29. Kaplan said he may grant a delay if he rules a key prosecution witness, Hussein Abebe, can’t testify. The adjournment would give the government time to appeal that ruling before the trial.
Ghailani, an alleged al-Qaeda terrorist and the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in a U.S. civilian court, is charged with participating in a global conspiracy with Osama bin Laden that includes the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. =
He faces 286 federal counts and up to life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals.
Prosecutors want to call Abebe, 46, a Tanzanian who is former miner, to testify that he sold five crates of dynamite to Ghailani before the blast. He would provide a first-hand account of Ghailani’s role in the attacks, the government says.
Abebe, who hasn’t been charged, is a “giant” witness, according to prosecutors. The judge said earlier he may not decide until after opening arguments whether the jury should hear Abebe’s testimony.
Ghailani’s lawyers argue that Abebe’s testimony should be excluded because the government learned of his involvement through a coercive interrogation of Ghailani by the CIA. Abebe also was coerced into cooperating with authorities, according to the defense attorneys, led by Peter Quijano and Steve Zissou,
Ghailani, who pleaded not guilty in June 2009, is accused of helping deliver bomb-making components, including TNT and oxygen tanks, in a truck detonated outside the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
He fled Africa and was captured in Pakistan in July 2004, then held and questioned by the CIA for more than two years, the U.S. has said in court papers.
In September 2006, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay by the Department of Defense. In June 2009, the U.S. transferred him to federal court in New York for trial.
At a hearing two weeks ago, Kaplan said he was concerned about inconsistencies in Abebe’s testimony on his detention and the circumstances of his questioning in August 2006 by U.S. and Tanzanian officials.
The case is U.S. v. Ghailani, 98-cr-1023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).